An amazing thing has happened. A 20-year-old has become the rising tide that is lifting all boats. The Braves beat the reigning National League champs 4-3 on Tuesday on a night when they had no runs and surely no hope after 26 outs.
To recap: They were one out from being blanked on a night when the Phillies’ starting pitcher was Kyle Kendrick, he of the 17.47 ERA. But Kendrick had done as bad pitchers too often have done to the Braves: He made them look timid. He worked eight scoreless innings and left the game to Ryan Madson, who’s not really a closer but who’s trying to bridge the gap until Brad Lidge gets healthy.
Madson walked Chipper Jones with one out. Then he retired Brian McCann, and then you saw who was coming up next and you thought, “Good night, Irene.” Because it was Troy Glaus, the latest incarnation of the All-American out. Put it this way: When last did you hear a guy coming up with two out in the ninth being booed by the home crowd?
It had been, sorry to say, a Glaussian night. He had misplayed a grounder by Ryan Howard into an RBI single in the top of the fourth inning, and in the bottom he had hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Some pitchers have Tommy John surgery. Was it possible the operation Troy Glaus underwent last summer was Greg Norton surgery?
But then, just as you were about to throw a shoe at the TV, Glaus did the darnedest thing. He hit a home run. And suddenly the Braves had hope. They were still down a run, but the No. 6 hitter was due to bat. And it wasn’t the usual No. 6 hitter. No, on this night Bobby Cox had bumped up Jason Heyward, who had been batting in the 7-hole, ahead of Yunel Escobar. Talk about genius managing.
So: Here was Joltin’ Jason with a chance to tie it. And just as you were thinking, “Nah — he can’t do it again,” he did it again.
Home run. Tie game. Unbelievable.
We pause here to note that Heyward’s game-winning single against the Rockies on Sunday mirrored a fairly famous precedent: Bases loaded, two out, the Braves a run down and then walk-off winners. Anybody recall Francisco Cabrera, Game 7, 1992 NLCS?
These are the sort of touchstone wonders Heyward has already wrought, and Tuesday’s astonishment was the most astonishing yet. Because he was the middle man in a most unlikely group of homer heroes: Glaus you didn’t expect; Heyward maybe you did, but then …
Nate McLouth? Who hadn’t had an extra-base hit this season? Whose flailings had prompted this typist to note during Tuesday’s live online chat: “You can’t spell McLouth without O-U-T”? That Nate McLouth?
Yep. Led off the 10th. Hit a home run. Won the wildest game we had seen since … well, since Sunday afternoon.
I’ve said it before, and I say it again: Something’s happening here. The Braves are believing in a way they haven’t believed since the run of division titles was broken in 2006. They’re believing because they’ve got a difference-maker on their side now, a difference-maker who isn’t yet old enough to take a legal sip of champagne. But he will be come October. You might want to file that away.
There was no reason for the Braves to win Sunday, but they did because the rookie took four pitches before finding one to his liking. There was less reason for them to prevail Tuesday, but they did because Glaus, of all people, kept it going for Heyward and because McLouth, of all people, caught the contagion.
Before the game, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel was asked if a transcendent young player — like the Phillies’ Howard was back in 2005, or like Heyward is today — can energize an entire franchise. “A guy like that can bring excitement and bring energy,” Manuel said. “He can bring a whole lot to a team and to a clubhouse.”
We Atlantans are seeing it on a daily basis. Barely two weeks on the job, Jason Heyward hasn’t just stamped himself as the Next Big Thing. He’s making a big thing out of the team around him. He’s making us think it’s 1991 all over again. And maybe it is.